The NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans signed Israeli basketball player Gal Mekel Friday. The 26-year-old point guard—the second Israeli to play in the NBA—debuted with the team Saturday night, playing 11 minutes and dishing out six assists in what ended up being a 120-100 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.
Mekel, who was dropped by the Dallas Mavericks in October after one season with the team, was expected to sign with the Indiana Pacers last month but the deal fell through after a last-minute visa technicality.
Despite getting unlucky with the Pacers deal, Mekel was invited to try out with the Los Angeles Lakers along with four other players. At the end of the workouts, the Lakers announced that they wouldn’t be signing anyone, and Mekel was left without a team once again. A few weeks later, New Orleans came calling.
The Pelicans, who have an eight and 10 record this season, have struggled to find consistency in the point guard position as former Louisville standout Russ Smith and former Duke star Austin Rivers haven’t been able to make smooth transitions from college hoops to the NBA.
Mekel is expected to provide backup for Rivers, and will likely battle with Smith for minutes on the court.
Mekel’s long journey to the NBA began when he decided to head to the United States to play college basketball, spending two years at Wichita State. He then returned home to Israel, where he began his professional basketball career. Mekel’s most impressive year was during the 2012-2013 season when he signed with Maccabi Haifa and led the franchise to their first-ever championship, beating out European powerhouse Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Raphael Gellar is a freelance football and basketball journalist covering Israeli sports and international football. He tweets at @raphael_gellar.